Publications & Resources

Professional Development: A Key to Kentucky’s Reform Effort

Nov 1999

Hilda Borko, Rebekah Elliott and Kay Uchiyama

Educational reform leaders generally agree that professional development opportunities for teachers are crucial to the success of any effort to make meaningful, sustainable changes in educational practice. As Fullan (1991) explained, “Continuous development of all teachers is the cornerstone for meaning, improvement, and reform. Professional development and school development are inextricably linked” (p. 315). Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) personnel charged with the responsibility to operationalize the Kentucky Educational Reform Act (KERA) understood this link. They developed an extensive professional development (PD) program to help Kentucky educators achieve the ambitious KERA goals. In this paper we describe the Department’s multi-faceted approach to professional development and provide evidence for its impact on schools’ achievement of KERA goals. We draw upon data from the exemplary case study component of a larger research project, The Effects of Standards-Based Assessments on Schools and Classrooms.

Perhaps the biggest challenge that KDE faced in providing PD services was geography. Many of Kentucky’s school districts are located in remote rural areas, accessible only by mountain roads which are particularly treacherous to travel during the winter months. To reach these districts, KDE relied on a system of nine regional service centers, which provided a wide variety of services to districts, schools, and individual teachers. However, as Ed Reidy, then-Deputy Commissioner of Education, explained, “We have a real commitment that what kids learn should not be a function of geography–You could draw a circle around [the regional service] centers. Most of our audited schools were outside those circles and most were poor.” To supplement the work of the centers, KDE developed a variety of materials and activities specifically designed to meet emerging needs of teachers as they worked to achieve KERA goals. This paper focuses on the two major categories of services–school-based professional development and professional development for mathematics and writing portfolios.

All four case study schools exhibited a strong commitment to professional development and a belief in the importance of ongoing support for teacher learning. They used state PD resources to enhance their instructional programs in areas explicitly connected to KERA, such as curriculum alignment and development of materials and activities keyed to the core content standards. Further, teachers at each school served in leadership roles in the KDE Division of Portfolio Initiatives professional development activities. These teachers saw their leadership roles as benefiting their schools, their students, and their colleagues, as well as supporting their own professional growth. Thus, using state resources and opportunities, these four exemplary schools created extensive professional development programs to suit the specific needs of their teachers and students. Through their successful efforts, they provide an existence proof that Kentucky’s approach to professional development can provide the resources needed to support statewide, standards-based educational reform. The paper concludes with recommendations for approaches to professional development that seem to hold promise for facilitating statewide standards-based educational reform efforts.

Borko, H., Elliott, R., & Uchiyama, K. (1999). Professional development: A key to Kentucky’s reform effort (CSE Report 512). Los Angeles: University of California, Los Angeles, National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST).